A new adaptation of an old Soviet farce...
Inspired by Erdman's classic satirical comedy, banned by Stalin before a single performance, Dying For It centres on Semyon, unemployed, living in the hallway and watching his wife Masha slave all the hours God sends. When his last hope to earn a crust and gain some self-respect disappears, he decides to take his own life. Word gets out of his intention and he finds himself inundated with visitors begging him to die on their behalf. On the night he is to shoot himself they hold a party, at which point events spiral to a glorious climax. *
Erdman's The Suicide
Nikolai Erdman was born, lived and died in Moscow. His father was a civil servant. In the 1920's he wrote many satirical revues for the stage. His first full-scale play, written for the Meyerhold Theatre in 1925 'The Mandate', sharply satirised the philistines in various walks of life. In 1928 he wrote 'The Suicide'. After that, mainly in collaboration with Volpin and Mass, he wrote scenarios for the music halls and libretti for operettas such as 'La Belle Helene' and 'Die Fledermaus'. He probably updated and Sovietised the spoken dialogue. He also wrote scenarios for films such as 'The Other Woman' (1929) and 'Jolly Lads' (1934). During and after the war more than ten films were produced from scenarios he wrote together with Volpin: 'Hallo Moscow!' (1946); 'The Border Guard Post in the Hills' (1956); and others. He was awarded a State Prize in 1951 for 'Brave People'.
'The Suicide' was written in 1928 but its performance was forbidden during the Stalinist era and it was only produced in Russia several years after the Erdman's death. Today it is regarded as one of the finest plays to have come out of Communist Russia. The plot centres around a young, unemployed man, Semyon, who believes the answer to his problems is to learn to play the tuba. However, his plan fails and he contemplates suicide. His neighbour, Alexander, decides to make money from Semyon's misery by exploiting his intended suicide to several bidders. These bidders planned to exploit Semyon's death to the furtherance of their own individual cause. The Intelligentsia, represented by Aristarch, is the first to approach him. From this point on, Semyon finds himself being manipulated by various people representing the business world, the arts, the workers, romance, etc. During the course of the play, each character reveals the worst side of their personality.
Semyon Semyonovich Podsekalnikov
an unemployed and unhappy fellow
his employed but unhappy wife
her overwrought mother
Alexander Petrovich Kalabushkin
a neighbor and possible pornographer
Margarita Ivanovna Peryesvetova
his enterprising mistress
another neighbor, postman, and Party member
Aristarkh Dominikovitch Grand-Skubik
a visiting dispossessed intellectual
Kleopatra "Kiki" Maximovna
a visiting eccentric romantic
a visiting immoderate priest
a visiting proletarian poet
Buffini's Dying for It
This is Moira Buffini's free adaptation of Nikolai Erdman's The Suicide: a play that was banned by the Soviet authorities in 1932, resuscitated on Radio 3 in 1978 and revived by the RSC a year later. But it deserves to be far better known since it is the best Russian theatrical satire since The Government Inspector.
Its hero, Semyon, is the archetypal "little man". Unemployed for a year in the late 1920s and guiltily living off his wife's earnings, he contemplates suicide. But, once word of his impending death gets out, everyone seeks to exploit it. A discontented intellectual, a romantic sexpot, a drunken priest and a communist postman all queue up to capitalise on his self-slaughter and use it to further their own particular cause. They even hold a wild celebration on the night of his intended demise. The only problem is that Semyon himself has the greatest difficulty in pulling the trigger.
You can see why the authorities were apprehensive. For Erdman argues that, under the Soviet system, everyone was disillusioned: even the loyalist postman, who peeps through keyholes "from a Marxist point of view", argues that the Party needs a sacrifice to boost fervour.
But the joy of the play lies in the way Erdman uses laughter to puncture the notion of a Soviet utopia. From the moment when Semyon discovers that an instruction manual on the art of the tuba requires him to buy a grand piano, the play offers a catalogue of failed dreams; and, for good measure, Erdman suggests that a by-product of disappointment is escalating corruption.